Out of the 280 petitions submitted to the judicial panel of inquiry sitting in Abuja, only five have been treated as of Thursday.
Inaugurated by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the panel was set up to investigate allegations of human rights violations made against the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other units of the Nigerian Police Force.
The 11-member panel is led by Suleiman Galadima, a former justice of the supreme court.
The panel is expected to hear petitions and “make recommendations as to the damages or compensation payable in relation to any violation of human rights where it deems it necessary in the circumstance, refer any matter of human rights violations requiring prosecution to the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice”.
However, 16 weeks after the panel’s inauguration, only five cases have been finalised. Eight have been struck following the withdrawal of the petitions while a total of 55 are ongoing.
SEVERAL ADJOURNMENTS AND CHALLENGES
Speaking with the TheCable, Hilary Ogbonna, secretary of the panel, said the members have been forced to make several adjournments due to a lack of preparedness from petitioners.
“On the issue of adjournments, they are both on technical and operational grounds,” Ogbonna said.
“On the technical aspect, a lot of them come as a result of the fact that evidentiary issues were not yet at a particular point when the petitioner was making his or her presentation so we have to adjourn definitely. That one we cannot run away from.
“But the ones that are probably uncalled for are the adjournments that have to do with operational issues which we see most of the time in the preparedness of either the police or the petitioners themselves.
“We try to guide against this and if it continues this way, we may experience a lot of delays even in the mandate of the panel.
“None of the instances of the adjournments has been at the instance of the panel. The panel would want to conduct all the cases before it but the parties most of the time are not ready. In the interest of justice, the panel cannot continue cases when people are not ready.
“So what we can just do is to continue to guide the petitioners and the respondents to ensure that they are prepared for their cases.”
Another challenge raised by the secretary is inadequate police representation.
“The police is representing all the respondents and sometimes they are just four in their team. So they need more support to rise to the challenge of these enormous cases. That is a major challenge,” Ogbonna said.
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had also caused a delay in the reconstitution of the panel in January. The panel didn’t resume its sitting until Monday, February 8.
Ogbonna said the panel is putting measures in place to fast-track cases in other to meet up with the given timeline.
“We are picking up speed and in other, for us to fast-track hearing, we are no longer doing one week and then alternate. We are now doing two weeks at a stretch,” he said.
“We have 55 cases that have been heard and are currently ongoing. We have an additional 160 that we are going to put into the list within the next one and two weeks.
“Our plan is that by the end of March, all the cases would have been listed whether they are completed or not, they will be heard.”